The world was perfect before Adam sinned – no pain, no disease, no death. Then Adam wrecked God's paradise by eating forbidden fruit, and ever since the earth has been under God's curse as punishment for that sin.
Everyone is a descendant from Adam and has inherited Adam's sin and guilt (known as 'original sin'). Every human being of all times and places is born guilty of that sin.
The penalty for Adam's sin is the harshest possible torment, burning in hell forever without being able to die. Everyone will be sent to hell after bodily resurrection and judgment except those who accepted Jesus Christ as Savior.
If one man could thwart God's plan, God cannot be all-wise and all-powerful. It seems like lack of foresight and defective design.
It is certainly not justice to punish people for the offense of another person at another time and place for which they had no part or knowledge, especially those who never even heard of Jesus.
Burning forever is the worst kind of torture conceivable. It may be loving to offer some people a means of salvation, but it certainly is not loving to withhold knowledge the offer from most people who have ever lived.
The earth had been billions of years in the making. Then God comes! And starts establishing personal relationships with humans!!
He chose one man – Adam – to make the first move from physical life to spiritual life. Man had never encountered God before, and now a whole new quality and dimension was added to human life.
People outside the Garden of Eden lived and died completely unaware of what was happening inside the Garden. As it is even to this day, for reasons we don't understand, God chooses to reveal himself to some people but not to others, mostly a consequence of historical time and geographical place (see 1.6).
The story of the Garden of Eden – man's first encounter with God – is told in Genesis 2:8 - 3:24.
'The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, 'You are free to eat from any tree in the Garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.' (Genesis 2:15-17).
The Garden of Eden is both a time and a place. The story is well known, but highlights and major themes are in Topic 1.4.1, and answers to frequently asked questions are in Topic 1.4.2.
According to Bible genealogy (see 1.3.3), and general agreement among Bible scholars, the time was approximately 4000 BC.
The Bible says that the Garden of Eden was at or near the headwaters of four named rivers. Even though the names of two of the rivers have changed and are now impossible to identify precisely, it appears that this garden (special place) was in Iraq (formerly Mesopotamia, known as the cradle of civilization) between the Tigris and Euphrates, near the Persian Gulf.
The story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden raises some controversial issues of Christian belief, including:
For people today, the doctrinal issues derived from the Garden of Eden story are more important than details of the story itself.
The doctrinal issues are covered in pages accessed from the linked list above, in the order in which the issues are encountered chronologically in this ORIGINS section of this site (Topic 1 series).
The Bible studies here display all relevant scripture on each issue, so you can read and decide for yourself WHAT and WHY you believe, direct from the Bible, not just repeating the tradition of early centuries.
Most Bible studies elsewhere use the fill-in-the-blanks method to affirm what most people in the group already believe, to make sure desired answers are given, and to make everyone feel good by thinking they have done real study.
The Bible studies here use the deep study method of asking any and all hard questions, gathering relevant real-world facts, objectively searching the Bible for answers, and thinking deeply about how to put it all together for coherent understanding and presentation.
As a result, some conclusions here may be unsettling for some traditional Christians who have been taught never to question what they have been told by their spiritual leaders.
Most Christians who have considered these issues only at surface level still have a subconscious internal tension that can be resolved only by studying directly from scripture and forming a personal belief that can stand tough questioning by doubters and unbelievers.
This Bible study site is completely independent and does not promote any particular denominational doctrine. Here every Christian will find plenty both to like and to dislike. This site exists only to encourage Christians to study the Bible for what it actually says and to get rich content for dialog with people who have different views.
The story of Adam and Eve raises this theological question: Does God ever hold a person guilty for the sins of another?
How we answer this question here sets the pattern for how we understand sin and eternal life in all parts the Bible.
A majority of Christians – Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox – have been taught that the full guilt for Adam's sin is placed on every human being and that, without salvation through Jesus, everyone will burn in hell forever because of it, even apart from their own sins and even if they never heard of Adam. Everyone, they say, is born guilty and condemned to hell.
This doctrine is known as original sin, inherited sin, transmitted sin and ancestral sin.
None of these terms appear anywhere in the Bible.
Many people over-reach with these so-called additional 'proof-texts' they say support the concept of original sin. Notice that these verses never even mention Adam.
The concept of original sin is derived primarily from a few verses written by the Apostle Paul in the fifth chapter of Romans. TAP orange button to see a deep study of that scripture.
The Bible teaches clearly that we have a sin nature (Romans 7:15-18), but that's not the same as saying we have original sin.
Everyone sins, individually, because of our sin nature ... our propensity to sin ... wanting to become our own god in charge of our own life.
Why do we have a sin nature? Because God gave us free will to obey or disobey. Free will would be meaningless – not free will at all – unless we sometimes exercise it in the wrong way.
Why do we have free will? Because God loves us and desires a reciprocal relationship with humans, his crowning creation, made in his image. Real love is impossible without free will.
All authority is from Jesus (verse above). Not church, not tradition, not Augustine, not even Apostle Paul.
When we must choose between two or more possible interpretations, we should always choose the interpretation most in accord with what Jesus said.
With regard to Adam and original sin, what did Jesus say? Nothing. Complete silence. Nothing there, so nothing to talk about. Jesus never even mentioned Adam's name. Jesus talked only about our own choices and our own sins.
Original sin is a concept developed by theologians hundreds of years after Jesus and is defended more on the basis of church tradition than on the actual words of scripture.
We should not add to Jesus teachings, especially when the add-on is contradictory.
Jesus said that our mission is to 'make disciples.' The doctrine of original sin is a man-made barrier to Christian faith and a hindrance to our mission. It demeans the character of God, causing doubters and unbelievers to see God as cruel and vindictive rather then as loving and just.
➤ The closest thing Jesus said on the subject of inherited sin is in John 9:1-3: 'As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, 'Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?' 'Neither this man nor his parents,' said Jesus, 'but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.''
➤ In John 3:18 Jesus said, 'Whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son.' By this statement, Jesus makes it clear that condemned already is because of our own sin.
➤ John 5:24, Jesus said, 'I tell you the truth, whoever hears my words and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned.' By this statement – will not be condemned (future tense) – Jesus is saying that people are not already condemned at birth.
➤ John 15:22 Jesus said, 'If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin.' By this statement – would not be guilty of sin (conditional) – Jesus is saying that people are not born condemned.
The human condition, like the condition of everything else in God's creation, is that we eventually die. Death is not a design flaw or mistake. God designed everything to die, a practical requirement for continuous growth and change.
There is ample evidence that the cycle of life-and-death was functioning in the world long before 4000 BC, the time the Bible says sin first entered the world 'through' Adam' (not 'because' of Adam;' see 1.4.3 for study of Romans 5). There been death on earth since the beginning of time.
There was death on earth before sin, so sin cannot be the cause of death (see 1.3).
Most Christians believe that sin is the cause of death because that is what they have always been told, by tradition, not because of their own Bible study.
Romans 5:12, the principle verse quoted for this view, states: '...just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men ...'
The verse does not say that Adam's sin caused death in the world. It simply says that, when Adam sinned – sequence, not cause – death passed (and continues to pass) to all men. Now there is something new and different: death through sin. Beginning with the first sin, death for humans takes a new path ('through sin,' i.e., resurrection, judgment and punishment in hell, then eternal death).
In other words, sin has intervened in the life-and-death process ever since man received and violated the first law from God. Instead of simply death – like for all other creatures in God's creation – for man it is now 'death through sin, and in this way death came to all men' (NIV); i.e., resurrection, judgment and punishment now intervene before death in hell.
The good news – the 'gospel' – is that there is one exception. Instead of going through SIN to eternal death, an optional way (our choice) is going through JESUS to eternal life.
Jesus and the New Testament writers spoke often about 'eternal life.' It is the central theme of the Bible.
To connote the opposite of eternal life, traditional Christians often use the term 'spiritual death,' a term that is an oxymoron to everyone else. It is an invented term, not in the Bible.
'Spiritual death' is usually a polite way of saying burn in hell forever. People who use the term seem to be saying that, after bodily resurrection and judgment, death doesn't really mean death but really means living forever, in torture, unable to die.
TAP blue bar to see how this terminology is contrary both to normal usage and to the character of God.
Here are some problems with the common interpretation. Doesn't communicate. Like a slogan.
We should use words only in the way they are understood by others. When we use the word 'death,' people understand that to mean the end of existence, not the beginning of a new kind of existence.
God said to Adam: 'You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.' (Genesis 2:16-17)
How we interpret 'die' in the story of Adam and Eve sets the pattern for how we interpret death and eternal life in other parts of the Bible.
THE INTERPRETATION ON THIS SITE is that 'die' means simply what it says: final end of existence (after physical death, resurrection, judgment and punishment). No body. No consciousness. Nothing. Eternal death. No longer any opportunity for eternal life.
The only exception to eternal death is eternal life, offered through Jesus Christ.
People who don't choose eternal life will die in hell. Not live forever in hell, but die in hell. Duration and severity in hell depends upon each person's sin and judgment. Then eternal death.
This is not what most traditional Christians have been taught, but it becomes clear from careful Bible study. See 3.5.1 for a study showing every passage of scripture that speaks directly about death and hell.
When people say that everyone inherits the guilt of Adam's sin, it raises questions about how they think people will be punished for his sin.
Most traditional Christians say that people will burn in hell forever if they die without having accepted Jesus Christ as Savior.
Even people who never heard of Jesus? Burn forever?
Most traditional Christians have never done a Bible study to get answers for themselves.
TAP orange button to see all relevant verses.